Slovenia Face Serbia For Spot In Final

19 September 2009
By Yarone Arbel

They used to be part of one big country by the name of Yugoslavia - the cradle of modern European basketball to some people.

Today Slovenia and Serbia go head-to-head for the right to play on the biggest stage of the European game in the Semi-Finals of EuroBasket 2009 in Katowice.

Slovenia made history by making it to the top four of the continent for the first time in the history of the country.

Serbia, under different names and versions, won numerous titles but since 2003 missed the medal games.

Two years ago, playing for the first time under the modern name Serbia, they went home without winning a single game in the Preliminary Round, and after two years, with a team made of young players, one veteran, and well respected coach, they are back at the top.

Both teams would have had a big smile on their faces and an "I'd wish" look in their eyes if they were told two weeks ago they will play the semis.

The Serbs are still in a revival process of their national team.

Slovenia suffer from a long list of absences and a short bench.

Nevertheless, neither side will rest their weapons now and settle for the bronze medal game.

Despite the possible absence of the versatile Nemanja Bjelica due to an ankle injury, Serbia enjoy a deep roster that shares the load, and they had a rest day after playing their Quarter-Final on Thursday.

Coach Dusan Ivkovic saw his players step up against Russia and continue their terrific run further than anybody expected.

Talks on their lack of experience chased Serbia from the first day of preparations, and as the gold nears, the veterans need to step up, in most cases.

Coach Ivkovic will try to find the young-veteran who show no fear.

The fact that the vast majority of the team has played medal games in youth tournaments might be helpful, it's not like Serbia has any other place to find that much needed know-how in big games.

Slovenians Goran Dragic and Captain Matjas Smodis joined the injury list of Slovenia during the championship.

Smodis played a total of 13 minutes in the entire competition and Dragic has not stepped on the floor in the last three games.

In the Slovenian camp there are hopes before each game to see at least one of them go on court, but that's not where Mr. Optimism is showing his full figure.

The result is the very few rest minutes for the important players of Coach Zure Zdovc - especially Jaka Lakovic and Erazem Lorbek.

The big come back in the quarters surely squeezed more juice and sweat out of the Slovenians who are tired as is, but don't show it quite yet.

One spot where Slovenia expect to have a big advantage is in the stands, as approximately 1,500 fans are suppose to exploit the weekend and gulp the 796km separating Ljubljana and Katowice, to join the 1,500 fans that are here already.

In the Slovenian camp there's hope the fans will give their team the extra energy boost they surely could use.

Whoever make it to the gold medal game and earns a spot on the podium, will still have a powerhouse like Greece or Spain in front of them.

Nobody likes to play against these two tough and great teams, who put constant pressure on defense and are loaded with offensive talent, but either Slovenia or Serbia are willing to sacrifice everything to have the chance to go through such "misery", and play on Sunday the finals game.

Head-to-head: Serbia and Slovenia faced off in the Preliminary Round with Slovenia winning 80-69.  That was their first ever meeting. 

Last time out: Slovenia used a big second half come back to write a 67-65 win over Croatia in the Quarter-Finals, while Serbia dominated Russia to write a 79-68 victory.

Stats: After seven games in the competition Slovenia allow the fewest points of any other team here (66.9) and only Russia allow a lower field goal percentages (41.3%), but that's not the full picture. Just 0.1% is between the team of Coach Jure Zdovc and the top spot in field goal percentages, which shows they are highly efficient on both ends of the floor. On the other side Serbia holds one of the worst field goal percentages, and is ranked last among the foul finalists - both outside and inside the arc. Their way to survive is to get more possessions and those you get with less turnovers and more offensive rebounds and steals. In the last two it's where the sun shines for Serbia. The Slovenians are the worst offensive rebounding team in the last 12, and Serbia are among the top two teams in steals per game. Two key elements that will help Serbia put up a fight, as long as the percentages remain the same. Keep in mind - Serbia and Slovenia lead the tournament in free throw percentages, so this one will go down to the last ticks on the clock, both have the charity stripe to relay on.

Key Match-Up:  31-year-old Jaka Lakovic is on fire here at EuroBasket. All seven games in double-digits, over 50% from long range on 3.4 hits per game (more than anyone else in the competition) and a good ratio of 4/2.6 assists/turnovers. Yet he also leads EuroBasket in minutes per game. Against Croatia he didn't rest for a second and the two games before that he had a total rest of four minutes. In front of him will come uprising 22-year-old Serbian point guard by the name Milos Teodosic. He's on a six games streak in double-figures, he set a tournament high with 12 assists - a category he excels better than any other player here with 5.9 per game and scores inside the arc in the same efficiency you'd expect from a big guy - 57.1%. These two point guards, from two ends of their careers, could be the deciding items for their coaches on the floor in this great showdown.

X-Factor: Erazem Lorbek rested 40 seconds in the quarters against Croatia. In less than 24 hours he'll need to play another big game and bring his best to the court. Serbia will pressure him like all teams do here, and fatigue could play a role. This is why Primoz Brezec, who played only seven minutes yesterday, could be the x-factor for Slovenia. A good performance by the big guy, will allow Lorbek more resting time and Coach Zdovc a more refreshed Lorbek.

Sounding-Off: "We're very excited after making it to the Semi-Finals, but being emotional about it isn't going to help us, because that's not brought us here. We are in the top four because we bring to the court tough defense and team-play and we'll need to keep doing that against Serbia as well." - Slovenia's Uros Slokar

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